Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Learning hard homesteading lessons

We have a small cattery.  We breed Persians.  This past Friday evening, our Queen was contracting.  I had been watching her, hoping she'd give clear signs of labor before I went to bed.  As I went to bed, I found she'd retreated into her carrier.  Shortly after that, she began pacing in her cage, in a way I recognized as meaning birth was imminent.  I began setting up my "midwifing" supplies, and she moved out of the carrier onto the towel over a heating pad I'd set up for the kittens instead.

She first delivered a lovely tortoiseshell little girl, just like herself.  It is the first female kitten we've had from our Persians, and I was delighted that she was a tortie.  While I was still taking care of details of the umbilical cord, weighing, recording stats, etc, our Queen quickly delivered a second kitten. 

I was surprised at how closely she delivered them this time.  Last time they were much further apart.  I let her clean it up for awhile, but she quickly abandoned it and went to her first kitten.  So I reached over to check it out.  It was dead.  I removed the sac from its face and began to rub it, hoping to revive it, but I couldn't.  There was no heartbeat.  It was stillborn.

I sadly set it aside and continued to wait.  She delivered her third kitten awhile later, and I could see it moving.  I was relieved.  After she had cleaned it, I reached in to weigh it and take care of its umbilical cord, if necessary.  Only to find that it was deformed.  Its intestines were outside of its abdomen.  Not just a little bit.  Way too much. 

I was shocked.  I knew it couldn't survive.  I doubted a vet could do anything.  What should I do?  Should I just throw it away with the dead kitten still alive?  Should I set it aside to die alone?  Should I give it to the Mom until it died?  Should I put it out of its misery myself?  None of these solutions seemed appealing and I felt helpless and unkind.

It was the middle of the night, and no one else was awake. I debated waking my husband as I searched the internet for information on this particular birth defect.  Finally, I put the defective kitten and the dead kitten in a paper bag and set them aside.  I headed to bed, feeling guilty.  As I got in bed, Steve awoke. I told him about the two kittens. 

He got up to see the defective kitten.  It'd been 2 hours since it was born, and it still lived.  Steve said we should put it with its Mom overnight, and take it to the vet in the morning.  I feared further injury if we did that, so we put it in a shoe box, on a heating pad, and went to bed.  An hour after waking him up, we went to bed at 5:30 in the morning. 

Steve took it to the vet first thing in the morning.  They said it was too severe to correct.  Sometimes they can replace the intestines, but not when it was this severe.  He was put to sleep.

Thankfully, our single kitten is doing well.  She is growing and thriving.  We're weighing her daily to be sure she doesn't "fade away" as kittens sometimes do.

This has been sad, for Steve and I, and for the children.  I felt guilty, as if I had failed as a cat midwife somehow.  We both wondered if there was anything we could have done differently during the pregnancy to prevent this.  We kept reassuring each other that it wasn't the other ones fault, but we also still felt as if it were our own fault.

And then I realized that this is a part of homesteading life.  When we move to the farm, we will have animals.  And sometimes those animals will die, through no fault of our own.  It's something we are going to have to brace ourselves for, and accept as part of life.

I told that to the children, when they had questions about why the kittens had died.  At first, they didn't like knowing this was part of life with animals.  But, they seem to have accepted it now. 

We're learning hard lessons.  Lessons we'll need when we move to our homestead.  I guess it's good to be prepared, but it's still a hard lesson.



  1. I remember staying up all night with a runt Siberian Husky puppy when my husband raised those, trying to keep it warm and giving it little drops of formula from an eye dropper...and when it died I, too, felt like I had failed. We called her Thumbelina because she was so tiny - half the size of the other pups.

  2. Hi,

    There just isn't much you could have done. I delivered a litter for a friend who had used our Corgi for stud. There was a pup with the intestines protruding from the umbilical site. Thankfully it was during the day and we could go to the vet as soon as she was finished.

    The worst time was when my little one had popped into the room, noticed a boy pup just born and quickly named him. I knew the pup wasn't going to make it. It was so difficult... I worked SO hard on that one.

    I've learned that they just don't all make it. Period. I've gotten over the guilt. I just wish they'd deliver during regular vet hours!



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